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#78 1959 Netherlands Grand Prix

2021-04-20 00:00

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#1959,

#78 1959 Netherlands Grand Prix

While in the United States, on Saturday, 30th May, 1959, the Indianapolis 500 takes place, the most interesting event is the Netherlands Grand Prix, o

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While in the United States, on Saturday, 30th May, 1959, the Indianapolis 500 takes place, the most interesting event is the Netherlands Grand Prix, organized in the permanent circuit of Zandvoort, between the dunes alongside the North Sea. In the Indy 500, the famous American race which has been held for 43 years in the very fast and tricky Indianapolis speedway, nobody of the 33 participants is European, as well as the cars being all American, built specifically for this event, and substantially different in terms of engine and specs from the single-seaters of the old continent. Therefore, during the week before the race scheduled on 31th May, 1959, the British teams, instead of travelling to the USA, reach Zandvoort in order to study the pitfalls of the Dutch circuit, placed few kilometers away from the coast of the North Sea, traditionally conditioned by the wind and by the consequent sand brought to the asphalt. Hence, it can be easily said that, after Monte-Carlo, this is the second stage valid for the drivers’ world championship, whose classification sees currently Jack Brabham leading with nine points, followed by Brooks with six, Trintignant with four, Phil Hill with three and McLaren with two. Besides the main fil rouge of the race, that is the duel between Behra, Brooks and Hill’s Ferrari and Moss, Brabham and Trintignant’s Cooper-Climax, the interesting thing is the presence of the new Aston Martin, with Salvadori and Shelby, who, after a very good debut at Aintree last month, they now enter the fight for the World Championship. At Monte-Carlo, Brabham’s Cooper’s victory was certainly facilitated by the configuration of the circuit, ideal for the small, light and nimble British racecars. Zandvoort’s circuit is much faster than Monaco’s, allowing average speeds up to 150 km/h, and it is supposable that the Ferrari will show their best skills, especially in terms of engine power. Europe is eager to see the Dutch challenge that will host again the fight between Ferrari, Cooper and B.R.M. Ferrari, defeated at Monaco, cannot wait to make a comeback from that bad race, and since Zandvoort’s circuit is very fast, that means more adapt to Ferrari’s strong points than Monaco’s track, it is legit to consider Maranello’s cars as the most likely to win.

 

Ferrari’s drivers will be Jean Behra on a 156 F1, while Brooks, Phil Hill and Allison will drive a 246 F1. The always fearsome Cooper-Climax will be driven by Brabham and Gregory. Salvadori and Shelby on Aston Martin, which presents the model DBR4/250, a vehicle with a classic configuration, with a front engine, contrary to the trend of the new British philosophy that seems to guarantee great performances on all circuits; Schell and Bonnier on the enigmatic BRM, Graham Hill and Ireland on Lotus. As already happened the previous year, the race organizers, in order to catch draw more attention from the Dutch spectators, invites to the race the local driver Carel Godin de Beaufort, behind the wheel of a Porsche RSK, a small racecar with covered wheels, more adequate to the Sport category. The only non-official team in the race is Rob Walker’s, who registers two Cooper-Climax T51, handed to Trintignant and Moss. The British driver, theoretically, should still be tied to Mr. Vanderwell’s Vanwall project, but the health conditions of his owner Tony blocked the development of the current Formula 1 title holder. The team promised that he would do everything during the season for giving a car to the British ace. Anyway, the uncertainty around Vanwall leaves open the chance for Moss of a token contract, and the list of teams interested in him is quite impressive. In the Netherlands, Moss has a once-in-a-lifetime chance of receiving three offers and choosing the one he likes the most. During the practice, Stirling Moss has the chance of testing the BRM for a total of 105 laps, much more than the 75 planned for the Dutch Grand Prix, and the Aston Martin, which will officially debut here in Zandvoort. There are high hopes for the Formula car designed by David Brown’s factory, given the surprising results obtained in the Sport category right since their debut. The last alternative for Moss is Walker Racing Team’s Cooper: the T51 model powered by Climax has an Italian gearbox made by Colotti. At the end of the practice, the British ace, as already happened in the narrow streets of the Principality, will decide to entrust his hopes of victory to Cooper.

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The official practice begins on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., and though it is sunny there is a strong wind blowing head-on along the straight and everyone turns out, with Ferrari, B.R.M. and Cooper having spare cars for training. Ferrari has as drivers Behra, Brooks, Hill and Allison and are hoping to get a last minute entry for their fourth car, while B.R.M. and Cooper are limited to two entries each even though McLaren is there and a Cooper is available. The Dutch organisers feel there are enough green cars in the entry and give the 14th position to their own driver de Beaufort with his 1.500cc Porsche, which causes many rude words. The two B.R.M.s are first away, with Schell and Bonnier driving, while the Walker-Coopers are being started by a portable electric starter and a shaft inserted in the end of the gearbox. Behra is driving the Formula 2 Ferrari fitted with a large carburetter experimental engine but for a long time it is reluctant to start, in spite of being pushed vigorously up and down the pit area. The Zandvoort circuit is very smooth and not difficult to learn and its is not long before drivers are beginning to try fairly hard and Graham Hill is noticeably fast in the Lotus, the little car seeming to float round the fast bends almost on a neutral steer, and looking remarkably steady and safe. Ireland is driving the second works Lotus and looking very much at home on his first outing in a European Grand Prix and altogether the Lotus team appears to have got themselves sorted out from their previous shambles. Bonnier is driving hard and the B.R.M. look and sound very much suited to the circuit, while the two Aston Martins of Salvadori and Shelby are not fast enough to get into handling difficulties compared with the other cars and do not have the acceleration of their rivals.

 

Whereas the Lotus would float round a fast corner, leaning heavily on the outside wheel, the Coopers are also going fast but have both rear wheels leaning away from the corner at a frightening angle; Brabham seems to be taking quite a time to settle into the circuit, whereas Gregory is trying hard quite early on. None of the Ferrari team looks happy, Behra trying the experimental car and the spare Formula 1 car, while neither Brooks nor Phil Hill seems at home or confident of the way their cars handle, Brooks looking as though he does not want to get the car sliding and Hill getting his car into sudden little twitches before he is really into the corners. Behra decides to stick to the Formula 2 chassis, so Allison takes over the spare car but with no real idea of starting in the race but merely getting Grand Prix car experience. As is to be expected after so much unofficial training Moss is incredibly fast with the Cooper-Climax and is going at such a speed round the back swerves that it is beginning to look dangerous, even for Moss. However, his handling of the little rear-engined car is quite remarkable and he is soon making very fast times, but he has to keep an eye on the B.R.M. team as Bonnier is driving incredibly smoothly and quickly at the same time; Schell is working hard but not getting anywhere near his team mate. Trintignant on the second Walker-Cooper is not going as fast as the Aston Martins and then has a shaft in his gearbox break so his practice is ended, and before the two hours is over Moss does a few laps in de Beaufort’s RSK Porsche, and Graham Hill tries Ireland’s Lotus. Apart from the Ferrari team everyone seems pretty happy, and the order of fastest times is Moss with 1'36"8, Bonnier 1'37"6, Brooks 1'38"0 and Behra, Brabham and Ireland tying with 1'38"4, though in fact the Lotus time is put up by Graham Hill.

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In spite of Brooks being third fastest, the Ferrari drivers are convinced their cars are not handling properly, though there seems to be quite a difference of opinion as to exactly what they consider to be good handling. The next day practice takes place in the morning under similar sunny and windy conditions and everyone is out again except Trintignant and Allison. The Walker-Cooper is still having some new parts put in its gearbox and Ferrari does a shuffle with their engines and chassis and the fourth car is not completed. Behra is still sticking to the F2 chassis but the experimental engine has been removed and replaced by one of the smaller carburetter Type 246 engines, the new one being put into the third F1 chassis, and it is this that Allison is waiting for. Brabham is trying the brand new Cooper and Gregory is having trouble with his car jumping out of gear so John Cooper got Brabham to try the car, to check on the American’s complaint and try and find the reason. It does not take the knowledgeable Australian long to trace the trouble to faulty selectors not engaging the gear dogs completely, and as this cannot be cured easily Gregory goes out in the spare car. Moss is still practising very fast and is getting worried about tyre wear, while B.R.M.s are also chasing the Dunlop technicians about the wear on their left rear tyres. As a precaution they are practicing pit stops and changing the left rear wheel, and getting their drivers accustomed to stopping at the right place. They are effecting these changes for both Bonnier and Schell in just under 30sec, using raw-hide hammers on the alloy hub caps, but reckon to reduce this to nearer 20sec on race day using copper-hammers, there being no point in risking damage to the hub caps during practice. The Walker team is in a difficult position for their fast Cooper is fitted with bolt-on wheels and a quick change is out of the question, and though they are using 7.00 by 15in rear tyres, the rate of wear is rather high.

 

The two B.R.M.s are using 15in wheels with 7.00in section tyres, in place of their usual 16in, wheels, and this is partly the cause of the tyre wear, but the handling is so vastly improved with the smaller diameter tyre that both drivers are prepared to risk a pit stop. The pace of the previous practice is soon stirred up again by Moss when he improves on his previous best time of 1'36"8 with a lap in 1'36"3 and then does 1'36"2. Graham Hill is going remarkably quickly and looking very safe and is approaching the 1'37"0 mark, while Brabham is equally as quick, and Behra gets the F2/F1 Ferrari round in 1'37"0 and then does 1'36"6, though Brooks and Hill are having difficulty in getting below 1'40"0, neither of them being happy with their cars and not being allowed to try Behra’s car. Lotus are really getting on with the job and the two works cars are going very well and even the Ferrari team looks a bit sideways when Graham Hill puts in a lap at 1'36"7 and Ireland does 1'38"3; then everyone comes up all standing when Bonnier goes out with the B.R.M. and does 1'36"0 dead, so that now anyone not well under 1'40"0 is getting left far behind. Shelby is the fastest of the two Aston Martins with 1'38"5, but the cars seem too cumbersome and heavy to cope with the little cars, though they look steady and reliable enough. Before practice finishes for lunch Schell goes out to try and get near Bonnier’a time but the best he can do is 1'37"3 which leaves him sixth fastest, and Graham Hill does some laps in Ireland’s car to investigate a locking front brake. In the middle of the afternoon, practice restarts for another two hours and the wind changes slightly but many people do not bother to turn out, Aston Martins being satisfied that they cannot go any faster, B.R.M.s having gone more than fast enough and Moss being content with being on the front row of the start.

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In complete contrast the Ferrari team is still chaotic, or at least Brooks and Hill are with the F1 cars and the whole afternoon is spent trying different rear springs, changing shock-absorbers, checking tyre pressures and so on, with very little improvement and what suites Brooks does not suit Hill and vice-versa and they juggle with the three F1 cars trying to come to some compromise on any two of them, but Behra does not help much by trying the spare car and saying there is not much wrong with it anyway! He is all right as he is going to race the shorter and lighter F2 chassis. Lotus has one car out doing final detail work and Coopers are sorting out the carburation on their new car, while Gregory is putting in some pretty steady practice, but not proving anything like as quick as Brabham. The Australian is busy working on the carburation of the new car himself and after each adjustment he goes quicker than ever, getting down from a time of 1'37"1 to 1'36"3 and then 1'36"0, equal to Bonnier’s morning FTD and at that he grins contentedly and reckons he has got things pretty well sorted out. Apart from the Ferrari team the rest is practically ready to race before this final session comes to an end, and when the best times for the three days are totalled up it is found that all but de Beaufort with his sports Porsche has got below 1'40"0, and there are only seven-tenths of a second covering the first five cars. Sunday is still dry and sunny as a huge crowd swarms into the circuit, covering the sand dunes like ants, and about an hour before the start is due the Ferrari team manager is collecting signatures from the other team managers and owners to plead for Allison to be allowed to start on the fourth Ferrari, to try and help combat the horde of green cars. This is finally agreed to and Allison is presented with the spare F1 car fitted with the large carburetter engine, which he has not driven before and is told to go quietly round and aim to finish.

 

Before the cars are lined up on the grid a row of 190SL Mercedes-Benz made a lap, each with a racing driver in the passenger seat, and then the serious business of motor racing begins to take over, interrupted only briefly for the arrival of Prince Bernhardt of the Netherlands driving his own 250 GT Ferrari. Most of the teams are a little anxious over tyre wear and are starting their cars on brand new unscrubbed tyres, so that with full petrol tanks the drivers are planning to take things easy at the start while the B.R.M.s are still on 15in wheels and are taking a chance on a tyre stop. As the flag is raised everyone begins to creep slightly and when it falls Gregory shoots from the third row into second place behind Bonnier, while Moss hesitates slightly and is instantly hemmed in on all sides as the pack accelerates away to the first corner. At the end of the opening lap Bonnier and Gregory are nose to tail and have already drawn away from the rest of the field which comes by in the order Brooks, Schell, Brabham, Behra, Graham Hill, Moss, Ireland, Phil Hill, Trintignant, Shelby and Salvadori, as quick as that. On the swerves behind the pits Gregory gets past Bonnier and later Brabham gets past Schell, and after two laps Cooper leads BRM, driven by an American and a Swede, and so soon they have nearly half the length of the straight lead over a pack of ten cars all running nose to tail with Brooks just leading Brabham, and into the wide hairpin at the end of the finishing straight there are cars three and four abreast, with Moss somewhere in the middle of it all. Already the leaders are lapping at under 1'40"0, so that any ideas of taking things easy are put to one side and by lap four Gregory and Bonnier have the length of the straight lead over Brabham who has shaken himself free of the storming mob and pulls out quite a lead.

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The scrap for fourth place is wonderful, Brooks, Behra, Graham Hill, Moss, Phil Hill, Ireland and Trintignant passing the pits as if on a string and then elbowing each other round the corners like the shoulder boys at Wembley Speedway. Shelby is getting left behind, as was Allison, and de Beaufort is bringing up the rear as is expected, and just as it is noticed that Salvadori is missing, the green Aston Martin coasts into the pits with a dead engine and retires. There is nothing to choose between Gregory and Bonnier and they are drawing further and further away from the general run of the field, the Cooper always leading, but now Brabham is getting into his stride and leaving the pack behind and closing on the leaders. Moss is still badly hemmed in amongst the bunch that are scrapping for fourth place and though Schell is elbowed down a place per lap, first by Behra, then by Graham Hill and then by Moss, the space covering the eight cars in the bunch is not much changed. However, on lap eight Behra gets past Brooks to lead the bunch and then Graham Hill and Moss get by and on lap 10 this almighty scrap breaks up into three sections. Behra and Graham Hill and Moss pressing hard on his tail, Brooks and Schell are in close company and Phil Hill, Ireland and Trintignant are almost touching. Gregory is still in the lead by a few feet and Brabham is only half the length of the straight behind, but on lap 12 Bonnier pips the leading Cooper behind the pits, but then as he draws quickly away it is clear that Gregory is in trouble and sure enough the Cooper is jumping out of gear, as it has done in practice. Further back Brooks is also in trouble for an oil pipe union has split and his own oil mist is getting on his tyres and a viscous slide drops back to 11th place, just able to hold on to the group comprising Phil Hill, Ireland and Trintignant.

 

Bonnier is holding a beautifully steady lead, but Brabham is closing rapidly on Gregory and on lap 15 the Australian driver takes second place. Almost the whole length of the straight behind the third man comes Graham Hill and Moss struggling in vain to get past Behra’s Ferrari, but the Frenchman has no intention of moving aside and letting them through. The Lotus is leaving the Cooper slightly out of some corners, but does not have enough acceleration to get past the Ferrari and on the straight it is all the Climax-engined cars can do to sit in the slipstream of the Italian car. At the end of lap 15 they are all three practically touching, and then Hill lets Moss go by to see if he can get past the Ferrari. All round the circuit Moss would get alongside the Ferrari, but never pasts it, and each time Hill would keep the Lotus right up the tail of the Cooper, alive to every opportunity for getting a tow through. At 20 laps Bonnier is holding a 3sec lead over Brabham and Gregory is now the whole finishing straight, or over half-a-mile behind them, while even further back Moss is shaking his fist at Behra, pulling up first on one side and then the other, always with the long thin Lotus a few feet behind; he even tries bumping the Ferrari up the tail with the nose of the Cooper, but Behra is not going to let the English cars by and on the straight they have not got the speed, and then, of course, Behra would give Moss an overtaking signal knowing full well he can do nothing about it. For a moment it looks as though this battle is going to break up when Allison is about to lap de Beaufort’s Porsche when the high speed trio arrives to lap both of them, and there is a general mix up but when it clears the order is still Behra, Moss, Hill. However, on lap 24 Moss is alongside Behra going into the Tarzan hairpin and in a very dicey manoeuvre he runs round the outside of the Ferrari and gets by, and Behra is so taken aback that before the end of the lap Graham Hill has got by as well.

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Moss now streaks away showing just how much he has been held up by the Ferrari and now has the difficult task of making up more than one-third of a lap on the leaders. Graham Hill’s lead over Behra is short-lived - for a puff of smoke comes into the cockpit and thinking the Lotus is catching fire he stops beside the track to investigate; there is nothing visibly wrong so he climbs back in and carries on, but has dropped back to 12th place, a lap behind the leader. At 25 laps the field has spread out in the order Bonnier, Brabham, Gregory, Moss making up time fast, Behra, Schell, Ireland, Trintignant, Brooks still sliding on his own oil mist, Phil Hill and Shelby, the Aston Martin closing on the Ferrari, then Graham Hill a lap behind, with Allison and de Beaufort bringing up the rear, but the very next lap Shelby’s engine breaks in a big way while rounding a very fast right-hand bend, and the Aston Martin locks up solid and spins down the track luckily without hitting anything. Brabham is working very hard, and in spite of similar trouble to Gregory, with second gear jumping out he is closing on Bonnier, while Moss is closing relentlessly on both of them, driving in that fantastic way that only Moss can when rouses. On lap 30 Brabham is right up with Bonnier and by a bit of dodgy braking at the end of the straight he carves his way in front of the B.R.M. but Bonnier is not rattled and hangs on to the Cooper, regaining the lead on lap 34 by a similar cutting-in movement going into the tight hairpin behind the pits. Moss is now only 11sec behind and gaining each lap, having passed Gregory with ease and now Behra is tiring and Schell is trying to get by, which he eventually accomplishes on lap 37 and shortly after that Ireland begins to challenge Behra. At 40 laps Moss is only 8sec behind Bonnier, with Brabham still between them and with another 35 laps still to go victory seems assured for the Walker-Cooper. Trintignant in the other Walker car is not very happy and stops to check the throttle spring as it has seemed to have stuck slightly open, and at the same time he has the rear shock-absorbers adjusted as the car does not seem to be handling too well.

 

Bonnier and Brabham both lap Phil Hill, and Graham Hill, who is closing on his namesake, then stops at his pit to have the front-end inspected as the car is snaking badly under braking. There is nothing amiss with the chassis or suspension, but all the fluid has gone from the front brake system, which probably accounts for the puff of smoke earlier, and the back brakes only is causing the instability. Hill goes on but with no hope of getting anywhere and then Brooks stops at the Ferrari pits and retires as the whole rear-end of the chassis is covered in oil mist, as are the rear tyres and the car is getting undriveable. Ireland is driving extremely well in his first big race and his Lotus is going perfectly, holding Behra with ease and worrying him on the corners, but not being able to get past. On lap 46 Moss is alongside Brabham, and still there on the next lap, the Australian not being beaten easily; Bonnier is given a tyre warning pit signal, but all is well and the oil and rubber coating on the track is easing the rate of wear as the race goes on. On lap 49 Moss takes second place by out-braking the works Cooper at the end of the straight and he then sets about catching Bonnier, but the bearded Swede is still unrattled and is driving very smoothly, with the car running perfectly. At 50 laps the order is Bonnier, Moss, Brabham all in close company, then Gregory a long way behind, and Behra with lreland still on his tail, the rest of the field comprising Phil Hill, Trintignant, Graham Hill, Allison and de Beaufort all having been well and truly lapped. Lap by lap, second by second, Moss closes on Bonnier and Brabham drops back, his failing gearbox making the car more and more difficult to drive. As the leader starts his 60th lap Moss is on his tail and at the same time they come up behind Behra to lap him and in the general confusion Moss sees his chance and slips into the lead.

 

Behra gets a bit mad at being lapped by Moss, whom he was racing against earlier and in trying to keep up he goes sideways into a corner and slides off the road, which allows Ireland to go by; the Ferrari does not stop and Behra is soon back in the race, but now a long way behind and in fifth place. Having get the lead Moss soon draws away and Bonnier plays safe and does not try to keep up, for Moss is at the top of his driving form. For three brief laps the dark blue Cooper leads the race and then at the end of lap 63 it is the B.R.M. which appears first, followed by Brabham, and Moss is overdue; he appears in third position going slowly and draws into the pits to retire, a ball race in the gearbox/final drive unit having broken up, and as at Monaco poor Moss has to watch someone else win a race that should have been his. Bonnier is now securely in first place and the B.R.M. pits hardly dare breathe as the car continues to reel off the laps, for already Schell has gone out with a seized gearbox, but the Swedish driver is more alive to the situation than anyone, and driving with perfect restraint and almost loving care for the car he completes the 75 laps amidst enormous enthusiasm, for if ever a team are due for a major victory, the B.R.M. team is. As Bonnier stops after his lap of honour the B.R.M. sound as healthy as ever and it has run a perfect race, driven by a new Grand Prix winner who has handled the car and all the situations that arouse with remarkable coolness. The two works Coopers follow in second and third positions, these three being the only ones to complete the full distance. At first the official results gives fastest lap to Bonnier, then it is changed to a tie between Bonnier, Brabham and Moss, and finally it is given to Moss, but even then the timekeepers has to make two stabs at the actual time. Fastest lap is a small consolation to the Walker team after being robbed of their second major victory by a mechanical failure.

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Jo Bonnier cuts the finish line for first. The Swedish driver closes in front of Jack Brabham with about fourteen seconds advantage, and Masten Gregory comes third, one minute and twenty-three seconds away after the leader. Ireland and Behra, who stayed fourth and fifth, are both lapped, while Phil Hill, Graham Hill and Trintignant are out of the points zone, lapped two times. Allison finishes the race lapped four times, while Godin de Beaufort comes last lapped seven times. Three protagonists, three aces of the steering wheel, have been the main characters of the second stage of the Constructors’ World Championship: the Swedish Joakim Bonnier, the Australian Jack Brabham and the British Stirling Moss. The first has been unexpectedly the race winner, the second was his greatest rival during the race and the third was the man to beat. The British driver was not so lucky; after pushing all his talent to the limit, he has been forced to retire due to a mechanical issue. The crowd was deeply disappointed by Moss’s retirement, who, besides having won the Netherlands Grand Prix last year, held the record for the fastest lap on the Zandvoort circuit. The win of the Swedish driver still surprises a large deal of spectators of the race, especially because Joakim Bonnier, so far, never had such a big victory like one at a Grand Prix, valid for the Formula 1 World Championship.

 

Jo Bonnier won the Netherlands Grand Prix behind the wheel of a British B.R.M., which had never won a championship race before: in all races, this car used to perform well but only in the first half. Then, for a reason or another, a mechanical element always suffered a failure. With today’s victory, the Swedish driver secured, in terms of championship standings, the eight points of the first place. Still in terms of world championship, Brooks’ and Moss’s retirements (this one getting an extra point for the fastest lap) allow Brabham to gain precious points: the Aussie now leads the standings with fifteen points, while Bonnier and Ward, who triumphed in Indianapolis the day before, follow in second place with eight points, while Brooks and Rathmann are third with six points. The constructors’ championship sees Cooper-Climax ahead with fourteen points, followed by B.R.M. and Ferrari with eight points; Lotus is fourth with the three points gained by Ireland. After an intense and sparkling month of May, the season will have some weeks of pause, especially Formula 1 taking a break until the first days of July, when the French Grand Prix will take place in Reims.

 

Luca Saitta

 

Translated by Nicola Carriero

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